Most would agree that Fifty Shades of Grey was not a good movie. But it’s a frustratingly bad movie in that there were glimmers of really, really good things scattered throughout. Dakota Johnson is kind of spectacular in the role of Ana, and there were times when it felt like director Sam Taylor-Johnson was trying to dig into the troubling gender roles and underlying issue of emotional abuse that permeates Ana and Christian’s (Jamie Dornan, who is much better on The Fall) relationship. But alas, the end result is a mixed bag of “blah”, and boring to boot. The culprit, it seems, was with the source material, which isn’t particularly strong to begin with and appears to sidestep some really serious issues in the central relationship.
So what does Universal Pictures and Focus Features have planned for the sequel? Well it might entail giving author E.L. James even more creative control over the material. The Fifty Shades of Grey adaptation already began with an unprecedented amount of creative input from the author, and that resulted in a highly contentious production (which has been detailed at length), during which James and Taylor-Johnson squabbled over how best to bring the book to the screen. Taylor-Johnson, it appears, was interested in veering away from the source material to bring something deeper to the movie. James was not having any of it.
Now, on the heels of a massive opening weekend, Universal and Focus are turning their attention to the second book in the trilogy, Fifty Shades Darker. Variety reports that neither Taylor-Johnson nor screenwriter Kelly Marcel are likely to be back for the sequel (apparently James and Marcel fell out after the latter penned the first draft), and the delay in getting the follow-up together is due to arguments between James and the studios. James reportedly wants to write the script for Fifty Shades Darker herself, and Universal is resistant to the idea. The studio’s apprehension is understandable given that A. James is unfamiliar with Hollywood, B. Has never written a script before, and C. Is only a newly established author, creating her Fifty trilogy out of her own Twilight fan-fiction.
The arguments between James and the studio are holding up production, which means filming might not get underway until early 2016, meaning the sequel wouldn’t arrive until late 2016 or early 2017. This is rare in a climate dominated by quickly-produced sequels, but that’s what happens when you sign over an insane amount of creative control to the source material’s author.
Apparently James held up the production of Fifty Shades of Grey when she disagreed with Taylor-Johnson’s vision. Given James’ contract, the director and producers were literally unable to circumvent her, and so everything had to be hashed out rather than the director simply moving on.
It’s unclear what’s going to happen, but I’d say any glimmer of hope that prevailed in Fifty Shades of Grey will be extinguished in Fifty Shades Darker. Even if James doesn’t get to pen the script, the studio is gonna have a hell of a time finding a respectable director to sign on. No doubt every filmmaker in town is now aware that James is the one calling the shots, so signing a director that values his or her artistic freedom will be mighty difficult.